Grunt Meister – End of term

DSC00912_4b7841180f2d6-lightboxGoing diesel was initially a move born out of necessity. That was a little over two years ago.

It’s gone now, replaced with an E39 M5 that you can read about elsewhere on Auto-Journals (and that’s one very special motor).

The reason for its passing? Boredom. And a nagging sense that the car was no longer needed. Returning to Oxford from Brussels means that any number of BMW specialists are within easy reach, as are friends and family. The advantage of the former is that I don’t necessarily need a bomb-proof reliable car any more, and the advantage of the latter is that I don’t need one that can travel from here to the moon on a tankful of fuel. So I took the decision to try and find something more interesting, with the result that OY57 was sold over the Christmas period and replaced with one of BMW M’s finest.

But what of the E60? How to sum up a little over 2 years worth of motoring? Was the £27k depreciation worth it (£21k selling price to the supplying dealer who managed to move it on for £26k….hey ho such is life), or was it a relationship doomed to failure from the off?

I was persuaded by the power of the twin-turbo six over opposition such as the CLS320 or even the upcoming Jaguar XF that would eventually persuade a good friend in Brussels to part with rather more money than he’d initially intended. 286bhp may only be seen as adequate when hot-hatchback Fords are chucking upwards of 300bhp at the front wheels, but for a diesel saloon it was, and still is, impressive. Allied to 428lb/ft of torque, the result was always discreetly rapid yet refined progress.

More was to come when a visit to DMS liberated 334bhp and a tad over 500lb/ft from the six-pot, still with 44-45mpg economy on a run. £1000 well spent, considering that DMS paid for their chap to visit us in Brussels. Two hours binary crunching in my office and the job was done. The result was amusing to say the least, the car seeming to have morphed into an over-engined Grunt Meister. Only a low frequency vibration through the drivetrain gave a small reason for concern. When the full capabilities of the engine were unleashed, one had the impression that the drivetrain was only just succeeding in containing the rampant energy pouring from up front. DMS have never had a reported failure with these remaps though and I’d do it again without hesitation. On a wet road, prodding the throttle with meaning was shortly followed by either a furious flashing from the dashboard or a slithering rear and some opposite lock, depending upon whether the DSC button had been briefly depressed, thus deactivating the higher-level of nannying traction control. Or, as I would term it, full or half-cojones mode.

It never missed a beat in 32k miles, not even during a 3k mile blast across Europe, from Brussels down through Germany to Austria, then across the Alps into Italy and a visit to Maranello, then across the Apennines to Monaco and then the long drag north back to Belgium. Cruising at nigh on 150mph in Germany, still with power in reserve, I began to wonder whether diesel was the future…

But we’ll get to that in a moment. Inevitably, there were some costs involved in running what was a nearly £50k motor. OY57 had three services during our tenure (the second, rather annoyingly, only a week or two before the M5 appeared and therefore only shortly before I decided to sell it….) with a combined cost of £600 plus change.

Requests for early oil changes were always met with blank expressions on the faces of service receptionists either side of the Channel. I really don’t care that the engine is supposedly designed for 20k service intervals. In my opinion, 15k miles was the maximum I was prepared to extend to. £500 for the protective resin finish at the time of purchase seemed a little steep, but there was no escaping the fact that 2 years later, the bodywork did look good.

Tyres were around £900 for four if memory serves, although the worst aspect was having to get them done at a main dealer as, at that point, only the franchise garages had the gear necessary to persuade the reinforced sidewall away from the alloy rim.

Award for most annoying cost was undoubtedly £800 for a new rear bumper, after a late flight home from Barcelona lead to a bleary-eyed yours truly reversing into a timber-framed plant-pot that the local Belgian authorities had helpfully plopped outside our garages at 1am in the morning… And then presumably arranged the subsequent power-cut, killing the street lights which meant that I couldn’t see the blasted thing…

Reliability was almost faultless, right up until nearly the end of the term when an ‘engine overheat’ message appeared on the iDrive during a rush-hour foray into Brussels one evening to rescue the wife of a friend.

A particular irritance of the 535d is the torque-converter effect, resulting in 2k of revs from the off, but not much forward momentum. In heavy traffic, you get lots of revolutions and therefore an excited engine, but with no cool air through the radiator. So we eased the pace and the message disappeared within a few moments. I was a little miffed when the chap on the phone at BMW Emergency Services asked me whether the temperature gauge was ‘higher than normal’. I really wasn’t in the mood at this point, and snapped back that of course the E60 ‘does not have a poxy temperature gauge’, a trend incidentally that I hope the industry drops. The cause was eventually put down to a slightly lower than ideal level in the header tank, although the operator on the telephone failed to ingratiate himself further when he claimed that overheating in traffic was to be expected. I retorted that if my 6 litre, 12 year-old Mercedes could cope, then a 2 year old BMW damn well ought to be able to also.

The 535d was always impressive. Always welcoming, powerful, comfortable and relaxing. But also a tad dull, somehow lacking a little soul and character, as seems to be the trend these days. And I could never quite reconcile myself with that noise that it made in the morning. If I’d kept it, I would have been quite content. Selling was not vital, but when it came down it, as I’ve said before, I wanted something that was also going to get my blood pumping in the morning, and appeal to the ears and not just the wallet.

So the diesel chapter in my life has passed I think. I can heartily recommend it to anybody. Torque-rich, lazy progress combined with impressive economy and interesting tuning possibilities. But if stump-extracting grunt doesn’t blow your frock up anymore, as with myself, then you’ll be looking elsewhere.

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Mark Williams